Monday, February 24, 2014

Wonder Woman in Media: The Star-Spangled Underoos of Ignominy

The long and the short of it: Though Wonder Woman’s life beyond the comic book page dates back a bit further than some fans would guess, these little-known movie and TV appearances all tend to suck. And that’s just how it is.

via atomic sam
Weeks after everyone else saw The Lego Movie and told me that I’d like it to the point that my head would shoot off like a rocket, Tex Avery wild take-style, I finally saw it. Everyone, you were right: It was, in fact, a movie that stirred my spirit and made me wish it had come out back when I was a kid. It also made me want to buy Legos, so I suppose it was doubly effective. However, a few different people have been lauding The Lego Movie for finally bringing Wonder Woman to the big screen. If that’s the case, it would still be a yay-boo — yay that she finally made it, sanctioned by DC and not sucking in any particular way, but boo that she gets about as much screen time as Lando Calrissian and William Shakespeare. She deserves better.

But there’s a decent argument that this is not the case, and that Wonder Woman’s first appearance in a major, nationally released theatrical effort came just a year prior: Movie 43.

via jeffrey k. lyles
Have we forgotten Movie 43 already? Good for us if so. I speak of that comedic anthology film released in 2013 that boasted some major stars doing some horrifically awful things, as Pajiba’s run-down of the film’s thirty most mind-scarring moments will remind you. (One of the most baffling, says me: “Halle Berry makes guacamole with her bare right breast.”) There’s a superhero speed dating sketch in which Leslie Bibb plays Wonder Woman.

Here, watch Wonder Woman, in her cinematic debut, call a Batman a pussy:

I mean, the costume looks terrible, and Leslie Bibb is technically credited as playing Fake Wonder Woman, in the same way that Jason Sudeikis and Justin Long are credited as Fake Batman and Fake Robin, that’s probably a result of the Movie 43 people not wanting to pay DC for official use of use of its characters (and them apparently having pulled this trick off more successfully than Dumb Starbucks did). But that’s Diana on screen, essentially. I looked around and failed to find the full segment, so I can’t tell you much about it. I’m fairly certain it sucked, though, just based on this clip. Pajiba’s summary at least offers us this tidbit: “Leslie Bibb plays Wonder Woman, who is upset because Batman didn't call her after they had sex, and she had to have an abortion alone.”

This is what he have to work with when talking about Wonder Woman on the big screen. At least the few seconds Wonder Woman got in The Lego Movie offered her a single joke about her invisible jet. And she was voiced by Cobie Smulders, which made good on Joss Whedon’s dream of having Smulders play Wonder Woman in a cinematic outing that has long since been cancelled.

Wondering if the early history of Wonder Woman could really be as bad as all that, I decided to look up her history on TV. Most people would probably guess that she first appeared on Super Friends, which began airing in 1973. They’d be wrong: Her first TV appearance is maybe not Movie 43-level embarrassing, but it’s sure as hell surprising. It’s The Brady Kids, a 1972 Filmation-produced spinoff to The Brady Bunch that had Greg, Marcia, Jan, Pete, Bobby and Cindy going on magical adventures in the company of twin pandas named Ping and Pong. “It’s All Greek to Me,” the thirteenth episode of the show’s first season, features Diana Prince as the librarian who fails to help Jan find books on mathematics. As Wonder Woman, she helps the kids on this adventure in the same way that the Harlem Globetrotters or Mama Cass helped out the Scooby-Doo gang.

You can watch the episode below, and even if you don’t give a damn about Wonder Woman’s first-ever TV appearance, the clip is worth watching just to hear the weird, “red universe” take on the Brady Bunch theme song:

The episode plays out as a battle between brains (represented by poor, bookish Jan) and physicality (represented by Marcia, the bombshell Brady). Wonder Woman is both, and also there are magical pandas that the Brady kids are keeping in an impossible-seeming treehouse that we never saw on the live-action show. And yes, the inexplicable canned laughter is creepy.

But even then, it’s worth noting that Wonder Woman’s sidekick Donna Troy appeared even before Wonder Woman did: all the way back in 1967, in a Teen Titans short that aired as part of the Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure. I’d say that seems like a slap in the face, but since it’s Wonder Woman we’re talking about, I’ll say it seems like an old Buick tossed in her face in the midst of a street fighter with super-strong alien invaders.

Watch Donna beat Wonder Woman to the literal punch:

Even if I were to ask where Wonder Woman first appeared on live-action TV, the answer would surprise. No, it’s not the 1975 Lynda Carter series. Technically, her first attempt at the small screen was a 1967 sitcom titled Who’s Afriad of Diana Prince? The pilot — which stars Ellie Wood Walker as a disheveled, bespectacled Diana Prince, and Linda Harrison as Diana’s alterego, Wonder Woman — was produced midway through the run of the Adam West Batman series. Ultimately, Diana Prince wasn’t picked up as a series, but you should probably be okay with this. The pilot posted in full on YouTube, where the top user comment is noteworthy: “I show this to Wonder Woman fans, and take a sick pleasure in watching that little light in their eyes die.” It’s that bad. A recurrent theme is the shame felt by Wonder Woman’s mother — played by Maudie Prickett, she may or may not be Hippolyta — at having an unmarried daughter.

Here, watch and feel the wave of horrible:

And then a year before the Lynda Carter series took off, there was a TV movie starring Cathy Lee Crosby as a blonde who was more James Bond (Jane Bond?) than Greek goddess.

Really, it makes the Christopher Nolan Batman films look like a warm embrace of the tropes of the superhero genre.

Eventually, the animated Justice League series gave us the worthiest-yet take on Wonder Woman. That show existed in the same universe as the animated Batman series that began airing in 1992. That same year, DC and Mattel began pushing for a new toy line, Wonder Woman and the Star Riders, which had her teaming up with Ice from Justice League and Dolphin, the DC character that answers the question “What if Aquaman were a hot chick wearing short-shorts?” Essentially, this line reimagined Wonder Woman as a sparkly sparkle-magic sparkle-princess with sparkles, and had the accompanying animated series also seen the light of day, it seems like it would have been a She-Ra clone. It’s just a mind-bender to imagine this being in the realm of possibility in 1992 — at the same time that the dark, stylized, mature and decidedly un-’80s Batman series was already airing on TV.

via wikipedia
via action girl
The toy line never saw the light of day, and the accompanying intro comic (which you can read here) was ultimately stuffed into cereal boxes as a free prize. According to Wikipedia, certain character designs were used for the series Tenko and the Guardians, which premiered in 1995, which lasted thirteen episodes and of which I have absolutely no memory. This is perhaps a fitting death for one of the shittiest-ever incarnations of Wonder Woman, but the real shame here is DC allowing this to happen, apparently because they couldn’t think of a better way to sell Wonder Woman to the world.

And it’s on that note that I realize it’s not so surprising that Wonder Woman has struggled so much in trying to transition off the comic book page — onto the big screen, onto the small screen, onto anywhere on her own, really, even if she has been standing on her own in comics since 1941. Because people apparently still just can’t figure out what to do with her.

Wonder Woman, previously:

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